10 black WU students stopped by Clayton Police; accused of not paying for their meals

| Senior Editor

Two police officers—one Clayton officer and one Richmond Heights officer—stopped a group of 10 black Washington University incoming freshmen returning to campus from dinner after suspecting them of leaving IHOP without paying earlier this month.

Several of the students showed the officers their receipts from the restaurant after being stopped. The police then escorted the students back to the restaurant with four police cars dispatched to the scene. The IHOP manager confirmed that these students were not the suspects they described.

According to a University-wide email from Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White sent Monday, the group of students—First-Year Summer Academic Program (FSAP) participants—were stopped based on a description of the suspects as “four young black men.” In addition to briefing students with details, White expressed her thoughts on the incident.

“This situation is unacceptable and it runs counter to our University’s core values of mutual respect, understanding and inclusion,” White wrote.

Police Chief Kevin R. Murphy explained why the officers made contact with the students.

“We have to respond—that’s the duty we have to the business and to the citizens. But beyond that, how would you determine whether or not any of the males had been involved if you didn’t approach them and make that inquiry?” Murphy said.

Washington University responded to the incident with a public statement on Monday.

“We are deeply concerned and disappointed that anyone—certainly any of our students—would experience what transpired on July 7,” Washington University wrote in its statement. “The fact that these 10 students, all of whom are African American, were scared and humiliated is unacceptable to us.”

Rob Wild, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of student transition and engagement, and Nicole Gore, assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of FSAP, alongside other colleagues, have been in conversation with the City of Clayton since they were aware of this event last week.

“This incident was scary and we don’t want this to happen to other students—not just our students, we don’t want this to happen to anyone at all—so we have asked Clayton for an explanation of what happened; we’re working with them to understand why this happened,” Wild said.

Wild has confirmed through his conversations with Police Chief Kevin R. Murphy that the Clayton Police Department is reviewing the situation internally. Furthermore, Chief Murphy offered to meet with the students involved. Wild is working with Chief Murphy to arrange this meeting for the students.

Murphy expressed his willingness to meet with the students.

“I feel like some of the young students probably felt uncomfortable by this situation,” Murphy said. “That certainly isn’t our intent, and that’s why I attempted to reach out to meet with them. We want to make sure people who come here not only feel safe and secure, but know that they are welcome to be here.”

In the University’s statement, a continued focus on conversations with the City of Clayton and disappointment regarding these students’ experiences were emphasized.

“Conversations continue and we are hopeful that our students will hear directly from the City of Clayton with both an explanation and an apology,” the University wrote. “Like all of our Washington University students, the incoming first-year students who were involved in this incident are truly exceptional…they chose to join our student body because they believed they would have an exceptional experience at Washington University and here in St. Louis. It is extremely disappointing that they have been so seriously let down, even before the official start of their first semester.”

The City of Clayton posted a timeline of events on its website late Monday evening.

The University disputes the timeline that was offered by the City of Clayton and according to Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Jill Friedman, the Washington University students are still waiting on an apology from the City of Clayton.

“Our concern is not about the timeline. Our concern is about the way in which this incident has affected our students personally,” Washington University wrote in a statement. “They were embarrassed. They were scared. And they were humiliated because they were wrongly accused of committing a crime, detained, and made to feel powerless. At a minimum, if their identity had to be confirmed, there is a police protocol that should have been followed that would have kept our students in place.”

Student Union president Grace Egbo sent a school-wide email Tuesday afternoon in response to the incident. In the email, Egbo acknowledged past Student Union mistakes in responding to related issues while outlining a plan to tackle racial discrimination including bias training for WUPD officers, mental health services and cooperation with school administration.

“What these incoming students experienced on July 7 was not novel in its occurrence, but it was unacceptable nonetheless,” Egbo wrote. “We need to address this particular incident, but our action moving forward must also focus on combating the pervasive systemic issues of which last weekend’s encounter only scratches the surface.”

While recognizing the University’s vow to prevent similar situations in the future, Egbo emphasized that additional measures are necessary to combat what she views as a pattern of discrimination.

“We have all seen the news articles, the statements from University administration, and the promises for change. These steps, while appropriate, are not enough. This single instance is not new or extraordinary in its occurrence—what is out of the ordinary is the response and publicity afforded to it.”

Correction: This article was updated to reflect further developments after publication

  • Paul Wright

    As a proud U.City native, Wash. U. Alum, and former participant in the SES early study program these students have joined, I’m beyond angry with this ‘incident’, knowing that it is a regrettably common one for black youth and adults, regardless of who they are. It reflects poorly on the state of our community and the wider world we all live in. To the students at Wash. U. (whether you were directly involved, or affected in the wake of this incident, take steps to be heard, as you are the ones who continue to make a difference both on campus and beyond in the wider communities. Since my seething rage can’t add anything at the moment, I’m gonna ‘go high’ for the moment, for myself and for the rest of us. The statements of the University and ABS together capture for me one of the most important elements of the story of why these talented students are at Washington University. Wash. U. has made incredible strides in attracting and retaining the best students and leaders over several decades from across many demographics, particularly African Americans. I’d like to think the same thing that brought me to Wash. U. was what these students felt when making the choice to come to St. Louis instead of the many other elite and selective universities they could have attended. I came because I felt wanted. After student-led actions, the University has actively recruited talented black students and the generations that preceded and followed my time have all made the Wash. U. even better with their presence, contributions and accomplishments. I hope the Wash. U. communities’ collective response to this reminds all of these students that they are here because they are wanted. I’m going to go a step further to note that, even more importantly at this time, they are needed. We can’t tell you how to respond or react, but we do count on you to effect the difference we know you’re there to make. Paul Wright, Washington University, B.A. 1991